Fattah not talking about the federal money he's spending to tell us about himself

Editor's Note: Campaign finance information has been corrected in this report.

 

Chaka Fattah is running on his record, betting that the federal dollars he brought to the Second Congressional District during his 11 terms will distract voters from his looming federal trial on charges that he misspent federal dollars for political purposes.

Fattah, however, has a problem in pitching his story to voters: His campaign bank account for the April 26 Democratic primary election is badly depleted.

There is one record on tax dollars, however, that Fattah insists on keeping secret until well after the primary.

The Inquirer in February reported that Fattah said he was "ramping up" his use of the franking privilege, which allows members of Congress to use tax dollars to send mail to constituents and advertise about governmental services on broadcast media.

Fattah had radio ads airing on WDAS-FM and WURD-AM, and voters in his district, which covers parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County, received robocall invitations to "telephone town halls," and glossy mailers detailing his accomplishments in the U.S. House.

Fattah is now airing ads on KYW Newsradio. A local media buyer said Fattah is spending $30,000 on that station from March 21 until April 29.

Fattah in February told me he "must make sure my constituents know about my work" since, he says, the media won't cover it.

This all raises the obvious question: Just how much are we spending for Fattah to talk about himself and his accomplishments in office?

Fattah refused to say in February, promising through a spokeswoman to release the information when the first quarter of 2016 came to a close.

That quarter closed on March 31. Fattah refused to provide the promised information. His spokeswoman said we had to wait until a report was filed with the U.S. House.

That report was filed Thursday. Again, Fattah refused to release the information. Instead, he said we now have to wait until the U.S. House makes the report public.

That will happen 60 days after the close of the quarter. That's five weeks after the primary and two weeks after his trial is due to start on May 16.

Let's pause here to admire the irony.

Fattah spends tax money to describe the tax money he brings home to his district, where he stands accused of misusing tax money. But he won't tell us how much tax money he is spending to tell us his tax-money story until after he is on trial for allegedly misusing tax money.

Fattah now says he wants to wait until the franking expenditures of all 435 members of the U.S. House are made public so his spending can be seen in proper context.

He wants context? I've got context right here.

Federal campaign finance reports for the first three months of 2016 were filed Friday. For Fattah, it told another tale of woe.

Fattah raised $37,931 in three months and spent almost all of it. The report appears to list nearly $43,000 in legal debts.

Fattah had just $12,138 in the bank as of March 31. And that included $1,700 he loaned himself.

State Rep. Dwight Evans, one of Fattah's three primary opponents, had $323,945 in the bank as of March 31. Ward Leader Dan Muroff, another candidate, had $94,721. And Lower Merion Township Commissioner Brian Gordon had $2,001 in the bank.

In short, Fattah's most dangerous challenger has $27 for every dollar he can muster.

Voters should carefully consider Fattah's record, not just on what he brings home to his district but also what he won't tell them about how he is spending their money.

brennac@phillynews.com

215-854-5973@ByChrisBrennan